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Synthesis/Regeneration 37   (Spring 2005)

Economics Reconsidered

Economic Philosophy and Green Electoralism

by David Orton

How far can radical green politics be achieved through the parliamentary context if its “structural imperatives” demand the progressive abandonment of such politics? —Andrew Dobson, Green Political Thought, p. 129

“Economy” for Deeper Greens does not just include the long term welfare of humans and their habitats, but also includes preserving and not significantly altering the long term welfare of all the other species of life inhabiting the planet and their habitats. Any economic initiatives by humans who call themselves green should be guided by this overall perspective. There is, ultimately, only a fixed amount of physical habitat, whether land or marine, and humans must share it with other species on an equality basis. Therefore, a population reduction strategy must be an open part of any green economic policy, given existing consumption patterns and resulting ecological footprints by humankind.

Deeper Greens not only see Nature as having value in itself but also see Nature as the principal source of human wealth—not labor power as in Marxism.

The present industrial capitalist system is totally ecologically dysfunctional. It is also socially inequitable to hundreds of millions of the world’s citizens, who are permanently shut out of what some consider the consumer “good life,” or, more importantly, an “adequate life.” Capitalism’s prime motivation is the accumulation of capital. This economic system requires structural social inequalities to motivate the labor force. Discontent is required for consumer-capitalism, so that an individual’s sense of vital needs’ continually expands.

The present industrial capitalist system is totally ecologically dysfunctional.

Deeper Greens understand that the “Natural Capitalism” thesis of Paul Hawken, that Nature can be ascribed value, is an illusion. Nature itself is priceless and beyond any human-centered economic rationality. The fundamental question for Greens to face, in any economic philosophical overview, is whether this system can be reformed. Can this system be nudged in a different direction while life goes on as normal, or does industrial capitalism have to be replaced by a totally new ecological, economic, cultural, and political alternative?

Left Bios believe, following the shallow/deep distinction made by Arne Naess in the early 70s, that the existing industrial capitalist economic model is inherently destructive and must be replaced if the Earth’s life support systems are to continue. Our economic path, as Left Bios, is to have a discussion on how to get to this ultimate goal. For Electoral Greens to advocate “fudging” in an economic policy because otherwise “the people will not accept it,” is not only dishonest given the actual situation, but is to practice electoral deception and betray any Green promise.

Furthermore, such betrayal will seriously set back any resolution of the ecological and social crisis which we all face.

Economic fundamentalism

Greens face a worldwide US-led economic fundamentalism. Green economic policies must name this and oppose it. A US government economic fundamentalist belief is that the natural world has to be turned into private property. “Democracy,” for US economic fundamentalism, excludes non-human life forms, as well as real public participation, and is ideologically linked with a market economy. Government is there to facilitate corporate growth, not to mainly intervene for citizens. Corporate well-being is seen, through a latter-day Malthusian belief, as being able to provide for citizen well-being in a spill-over fashion.

This economic fundamentalism rests on rigid beliefs in the endlessness of economic growth and an ever increasing consumerism, and a belief that there is essentially only one economic model, which has been developed in the US for the rest of the world. According to this model, international competitiveness is considered the primary indicator of a society’s health. To meet this competitiveness, social and environmental standards are sacrificed. All countries must aim to have balanced budgets, no trade barriers, low inflation, minimum labor standards, minimal environmental regulations, maximum mobility for capital, etc.

The economy is considered to govern the society. Through various global economic institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the United States attempts to impose on other countries what has become known as “The Washington Consensus.” This economic fundamentalism is bi-partisan and is followed by Republican or Democratic administrations.

Both administrations are imperialistic in that they take for granted US world leadership. US economic fundamentalism needs a large military arm to maintain, through intimidation, its world economic hegemony. To facilitate the raising of military funds, an external enemy is extremely useful. This function, formerly fulfilled by the alleged threat of Communism, has now been given over to religious fundamentalism of the Islamic variety.

Market society

While markets long pre-date the emergence of industrial capitalist society, in the sense of the exchange of trade goods and services, “market society” has become an euphemism for a capitalist society. When Electoral Greens routinely announce that they are using market mechanisms, everyone who is at all informed economically understands that the existing industrial capitalist economy, as an economic model, is being basically accepted. This market, pro-capitalist sentiment is widespread in the Federal Green Party [of Canada]; whereas we Left Bio Greens believe that the future shape of an economic formation for an ecocentric and Green sustainable society is yet to be determined.

Industrial capitalism cannot be fundamentally altered to evolve in a more ecologically and socially just direction. There is no “eco-Capitalism,” just as there is no “eco-Socialism.” If we believe that the termination of industrial capitalist society is necessary if the Earth’s life-support systems are to continue, then we know that there can be no long-term “eco-forestry” or “eco-fishery” within the existing society.

…before Nature could be commodified, it had to be disenchanted.

The Green Electoral quest for sustainability within the existing expansionary industrial capitalist society is a cruelly illusory path to present to the electorate in Canada. Industrial capitalist society, which requires the ongoing destruction of Nature, is the enemy, not something we embrace.

The ethical crisis

There is an ethical crisis within the business community and reflected onto the public, which has little to do with the basic Deep Green critique of industrial capitalism. This ethical crisis is really structural in nature and needs to be exploited. The last three years or so have shown, through numerous business-related stories in the US and Canada, that the interests of consumers and investors have been betrayed from within the system.

Here is how one business writer, Janet McFarland, puts it:

First there was the post-Enron era, with all its evidence about executives reaping huge rewards through various generous deals with themselves. Then auditors were forced to admit that big consulting fees had compromised the independence of their audit work. The next target was stock analysts, who conceded they had received undisclosed incentives to promote certain stock. Then mutual funds were accused of helping traders manipulate their funds. And now we hear insurance brokers had been paid undisclosed commissions for channeling business to some insurers.

Why should the investing public want to swim in waters inhabited by such corporate predatory fish?

Economic policies

…Deep/Dark greens are utopians and hold that human beings are capable of radical transformation.

The core ideas advocated above, and the general reference points advanced in this discussion document, could be used as examples around which to organize. What attitude to take towards the State, and what political, economic and social arrangements should be supported, are pressing questions for us all. What we are to retain from the past, in our post-industrial sustainable societies, is also a pressing issue. But as Andrew Dobson has noted, Deep/Dark greens are utopians and hold that human beings are capable of radical transformation.

Revolutionary hope, not pessimism, to guide our practice is therefore important in political economy considerations. Before there can be mass change there must be the public discussion of alternative visions. It is the transformation of consciousness and the circulation of such alternative visions, not vote getting, which should be the basic green electoral orientation. In order to exit industrial capitalist society, we need paradigm shifts, not electing members of parliament to Ottawa.

David Orton is affiliated with “Green Web,” an independent environmental research group and network with a biocentric perspective. He is also a frequent contributor to Synthesis/Regeneration.

[22 mar 05]

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